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Tired of chardonnay? Try a pinot grigio

And it's not from Italy. Edward Deitch makes the case for the lesser-known pinot grigio or pinot gris from California.

It's mid-afternoon on a brisk Saturday in October. Tennis and baseball with the boys are over and we're back home for a quick lunch of basil, mozzarella and tomato sandwiches.  I pour myself a glass of crisp pinot grigio that fits the food and the informality of the afternoon perfectly. One thing is unusual, though.  The wine is not from Friuli or elsewhere in northern Italy, where pinot grigio has traditionally been made. This one is from California — the refreshing and fruity 2005 Pinot Grigio from the Estancia Winery in Monterey County.

The tastes call to mind pear, melon, lemon zest and touches of vanilla, herbs and minerals. I found it more appealing than the 2004 vintage because it's lighter, with alcohol at a modest 12.5 percent, which is unusual for any California wine.  Noticeably missing is the heavy overlay of oak that characterizes most California chardonnays, and that, I think, is the big selling point for this and similar wines. For the Estancia wine another one is the price — it's a bargain at $12.

Icon Estates

Pinot grigio, of course, is the same grape as pinot gris, and that's what most of the wines from California and Oregon are called, including the classy 2005 Sonoma Reserve Pinot Gris from Gallo Family Vineyards, which has a suggested price of $15.  This one is a bit more reserved in style than the Estancia, with notes of green apple and fig and the citrus more muted. It's notable for its balance and elegance.

We enjoyed it with gray sole fillets seasoned simply with a little salt, white pepper and paprika and broiled with white wine and a few dabs of butter.  It will also match well with grilled chicken, pork and veal.

Whether its called pinot gris or pinot grigio, the variety has emerged as a serious player on the American wine scene along with chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.  It's a welcome alternative in particular to those big California chardonnays that many wine drinkers have turned away from in search of graceful, leaner wines that are easier to drink.

Estancia's pinot grigio and Gallo's pinot gris are well worth a taste. Both are widely available.  You'll find the California wines more fruit forward than their Italian counterparts, but that, after all, is what California is all about, and in this case the results are delicious.

Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at